January 2018!

Time has a habit of rolling on and here I find myself at the beginning of February 2018!

So what has been happening so far this year? Well, the year started in France for me. We avoided the snowmageddon that was being reported back home but we did suffer a wet spell while we were there over Christmas and New Year. This lead to an interesting little episode where we got stuck in the mud outside our house on the day that we had to set off home. The journey home is just over 1000 miles door to door and takes us well over 20 hours. It is finely timed as we need to arrive in Calais on time to get on the Euro Tunnel train across to Folkestone. We were ready to go on time but it took us three hours to get the 20 metres to the road! The van was churning up the ground outside the house and we managed to get maybe 15 metres in the three hours through the judicious application of a few old rugs. Unfortunately the last little bit is a relatively steep slope and there was just no way that we could get up it. In the end we managed to catch our neighbour as he came home, and with my very poor French and his total lack of English we had a great conversation that culminated with him calling a farmer from the next little hamlet over who came and dragged us out with his tractor!

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Once back home and back at work I embarked on one of this year’s challenges. I intend to run 1000 miles by the end of the year. This means that I need to cover 83 miles per month on average. And so after the obligatory pre-Christmas cold and a 3 week hiatus I got back out on the road. That was tough, but the highlight of the month was race 4 of the Foxtrail Winter Running Series. A 10k around the Balgone Estate near North Berwick. The temperature was hovering around 0 celsius and the ground was hard, with ice covering some sections. It certainly wasn’t my fastest 10k ever, neither was it a flat course, but the scenery was fabulous, and I managed to climb the last hills without stopping this year. Win for me!

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(Pic: Sandy Wallace)

To top off the month I went up to Arrochar, clambered to the top of Cruach Tairbeirt in the dark, and then slept the night in a bivvy bag just inside the tree line. I was already wet when I stopped for the night and climbed inside the bag. It was stuffy in there too so I had to keep my nose near the opening. Unfortunately some time around 0130 the rain got a lot heavier. I stayed relatively dry and warm but the closure at the top of the bivvy bag isn’t great and so the top of my head and the top of my sleeping bag got a bit wet. All told though it was relatively successful.

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Mind you, when I had to get up to answer the call of nature some time after 0600 there was no way I was getting back into the bag and so I had to rouse my partner in crime (who had spent the night in his tent!) and we slid our way back down the hill. With the rain overnight the footing through the trees had become a little less certain and I skidded around a bit as we made our way down. It’s a shame that we came back down in the dark. From the top we had managed to catch a glimpse of the snow streaked sides of the mountains that surround the hill and if the dawn had been clear (which it wasn’t) then the views would have been spectacular. Another time maybe.

Which leads me to a question that I get asked a lot when I do these things. Why? I find it difficult to answer a lot of the time because I don’t think that the people that are asking really want to know, or would necessarily understand. I read a post by Alastair Humphreys the other day where he tried to explain the same thing. And so I thought I would have a go here. Spending the night on a hill in the middle of winter and getting drenched is not something that I have to do. I do it because I enjoy it. That in itself sounds strange and needs a little bit of explaining. Climbing up a steep hill in the dark and through mist and clouds is not easy. In fact it can often be very difficult and exhausting. The waterproof clothes that I wear can keep the driving rain out to a degree but they can’t keep me from sweating inside and getting just as wet as I would have been without them. The terrain can be difficult, I don’t always know where I am despite map and compass. Sometimes I can only see a few feet ahead of me. At this time of year care has to be taken to make sure that I keep warm as even at relatively low altitudes you can get very cold very quickly, especially if you are a bit damp. And trying to put a tent up, or wiggle into a bivvy bag in the driving rain can be a miserable state of affairs.

Put like that it doesn’t sound like any fun at all. But the fact is that these are things that make it fun. My life is generally quite safe and free from strain. I am warm and dry and never have to worry about where my next meal is coming from. There is stress to be sure, but it is the stress of expectation rather than of desperation. Taking myself out onto the hills or pushing myself on a long run through the countryside is an experience, something out of the norm. And for me that is where the fun lies. There is a purity of purpose to it, to thinking only about the task at hand and making sure that you are safe. The fact that I have fun while I am doing it is a bonus.

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